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Maria de Medeiros,
Sonia, a girl from St Petersburg, decides to seek a better life in western Europe. She first gets a job at a car dealer in Germany. But she is suddenly kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery. She will be dragged from country to country and resistance will only bring her misery and humiliation. Written by
When I first watched this, I felt it had a lot of long, slow shots, with seemingly little progression. I admit feeling rather sleepy in the first half. I didn't feel much connection to the introverted, stolid main character. The speed increases in the second half, but so does the confusion. Time is vague, characters appear and disappear, settings and languages change, the sanity of our main character becomes suspect...and then on one sweeping note, the film ends. I sensed many of my fellow festival attendees were yawning and scratching their heads.
It wasn't until today, "the morning after", that I'm finding scenes from the film repeatedly intruding into my mind, and I've come to better appreciate it.
This film is not meant to be enjoyable to watch; there is nothing enjoyable about sexual slavery. To make this film "entertaining" by traditional standards would be to betray the main character. So here is what I liked:
+ The main character wasn't your typical victim. We usually see very likable victims, chatty and kind, feminine. The protagonist in Transe, however, is stolid, even sullen, highly dignified, and tightly wired - we can sense a darker, masculine strength inside her. She's not the screamy, weepy type - which makes her rare moments of raw emotions - or even speech - all the more evocative. I am wildly impressed that the director chose to have a complex character face a complex situation, rather than the usual complex/simple breakdown.
+ The long, still nature shots were very beautiful. We are presented, in the midst of horror and fear, images of benevolent trees, ice, and so forth - extreme serenity. In the Q&A, the director said she did this because it's realistic, like a bomb dropping in a beautiful little town. We envision horrible things happening in scenes of ugliness, but seeing horrible things happen between shots of breathtaking beauty and calmness really reinvents the context. Definitely something that isn't normally done.
+ Like Zen Buddhism, you get confused because you are *supposed* to be confused. The film depicts what happens psychologically to someone undergoing a very specific type of trauma - and what happens isn't a nice, cohesive story. Ideas appear like fireflies and then flicker out as just quickly, time moves at strange and vague paces, languages and countries change. The linear timeline, with its handy little demarcations of what-happens-when, has been erased. Instead we are left with human memory as it really is: fading in, fading out, and touched by occasional moments of sharp detail.
+ The film is extremely graphic without showing many graphic images. Some of the scenes that were hardest to watch featured no human life forms at all. The director was quite skillful at getting across what was happening, while not showing anything too objectionable. I felt like I'd watched a very graphic film, although I really hadn't. It reminds me of the skill seen in playwrights: the ability to force the viewer to vividly imagine what is happening, based on context and subtle cues.
So altogether, this seems to be one of those films in which its flaws and problems are also its merits.
Hard to watch, but important to see.
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